Archive for May, 2013

Small University still Packs a Powerful Punch

Posted on: May 27th, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Paul O’ Driscoll, Director, Residence Hall Programs, Brandon University

“Sure I’ll contribute to the blog”.  Back at the Western Region meeting in January (at the gorgeous Hotel Alma)  it seemed such a long time till May 21st, surely I’d find an hour or so to think up a theme and begin writing.  It was certainly not too much to ask, or at least it seemed not at the time.

So here it is: May 21st. It has been a hectic winter at our small university in western Manitoba, and even more hectic in the residence and conference area, and I’m scrambling to fulfil this commitment.  Lately it seems that’s the way nearly everything gets completed: last minute, just under the wire. I wonder at times at what point quality begins to suffer.

At Brandon University we have a small residence, and a small conference business.  With beds for up to 480, we are comfortable operating the residence office with a director (me), two clerical workers, a half-dozen residence assistants, and a few other part-time student workers.  These same people also run the conference business, under my direction: a responsibility that I inherited when the conference manager retired in the mid 1990’s.

Our conference operation may seem small; however we can pack a powerful punch.  While it’s true our average event is comprised of only about twenty or thirty people, we’ve hosted large events of up to 2200 participants (the Canada Games, twice), national conferences (National Lutheran Synod), prestigious sporting events (athletes village for World Youth Baseball , twice), prestigious national and international music competitions such as Egre (annually).  We also serve our more local community by hosting such events as mini-university, volleyball and basketball events, and computer gaming competitions.  Our meeting rooms do a thriving business, and our Main Dining Room has the best reputation in Brandon for formal events.

Running the residence business and the conference business out of one office has its advantages.  Room use arguments between the residence director  (me) and the conference manager (also me) are few, and lines of communication are short and direct.  The conference business directly affects the residence operation’s bottom line, so my full-time and part-time residence office employees are motivated to run a successful conference season.  While staff may not completely agree with the adage “a change is as good as a rest”, most would probably agree that they welcome the variety of work and the change from routine that comes with the conference season.

Despite the difference in size between our conference business and that of most other institutions, CUCCOA is the single most important external resource available to me in managing our conference office. I enjoy and benefit from every CUCCOA national conference and regional meeting I attend,  the list-serve utility is invaluable, and most of all the relationships that form between conference professionals remind me that I’m not in this business alone, that others face similar challenges, and the work we do adds value to our customers and our respective institutions.

Paul O’Driscoll, Director, Residence Hall Programs, Brandon University
Email: ODRISCOLL@BrandonU.CA
Telephone: 204-727-9799

Great Technological Advances

Posted on: May 21st, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author:  Meghan Burke, Conference Operations Manager, Dalhousie University

We all live in the era of technology – and I’m not talking about your Dad’s first black and white television set kind of technology. I’m talking about hard-core, sometimes confusing, modern-day technology. It’s something that’s unavoidable, especially on a university campus – it’s everywhere. Every department and office uses different software and hardware, all in an effort to maximize their productivity and, in the case of Conference Services, customer satisfaction. The software that you use, especially as a business, can make or break you.

For years, the saying in our office has been “blame it on the system” when something like a reservation disappearing occurred. We seemed to be followed around by this software that was suffering from (what can only be described as) an electronic version of the Black Death.

Fast forward to the spring of 2013 and after months of logistical planning, our office was finally graced with the presence of a brand new, shiny, piece of technology called Kinetics Software (Kx, for short). What we were trying to accomplish in the span of less than three months (the actual configuration of the new conferencing program) was recommended to be done over the span of a year. Did the team at Kx think we were ambitious? Probably. Did they think that we were crazy? Most definitely – in fact, we thought we were crazy. We knew that it was going to be a lot of work in a short amount of time, but we were very eager to roll-out our newly beloved software to all Conference Services offices and residence front desks.

Going from our previous software to Kx was like going from zero to sixty in 3.5. It was especially like that analogy, because we, logistically, did not have a lot of time to ensure that the system would be prepped and ready for our soft opening date of May 3. There were long days, endless amounts of conference calls, training, and perhaps even some tears – but somehow we did it. Before we knew it, we were training our summer student staff on the ins and outs of Kx when we weren’t even experts ourselves.

Every day since then is a learning experience. Every day it seems as though we get a little deeper into our newfound software and learn to love it a little more. Thanks to Kx, we’re able to streamline many processes that we once left up to Microsoft Office and human error. We’re now able to function as a better microcosm of Dalhousie University and by doing so, we’re able to offer our clients and guests a better overall experience when they decide to make us of the facilities at Dalhousie University Conference Services & Summer Accommodations.

Meghan Burke, Conference Operations Manager
Dalhousie University
Email: Meghan.Burke@DAL.CA
Telephone: 1.902.494.3401

The magic of “Transition” – preparing the Flip from Housing to Conference

Posted on: May 14th, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Suzanne Nazareno, Manager, Conferences & Accommodation & Central Booking Office,
University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus

UBC Okanagan Conference Services operates in a unique environment – The Conference services operation is part of the overall Housing operation.   We call ourselves Student Housing & Hospitality Services – SHHS for short.     Blending operations has a variety of positives – one in particular is the planning of April transition.

Transition is that time of year when students move out, and we ready buildings for summer visitor accommodations.  The process is not unlike a family dinner where everyone gathers together at the table.   It can be chaotic, and lumpy like gravy, or smooth like a nice chilled wine.

Who sits at the SHHS table?   The Managers of;  Housing, Conference, Front Desk, Rez Life, and Maintenance.   Each of these people will bring ingredients to mix into the transition plan.

Table chatter attracts a range of conversation – sometimes without upheaval, and sometimes noisy like an Italian gathering!    It is a time to examine what’s happening in operational areas other than your own.   We will debate, express disagreement, persuade, exchange idea’s, and ultimately consent over a well cooked plan.    The well cooked menu plan is called “Transition – the flip of operations”.

Rez Life is the appetizer, rolling out the communication plan to students.    Move out chatter begins mid term to talk about the “art” of student move out – the check list of check out procedures in student language, and using social media.

How you set the table messages how you value hospitality!  The Front Office Manager sets the priority for developing an excellent training program for summer guest service agent staff.  You know who these people are….   They are the first face to welcome your visitors to campus.   They are the warmth of UBC’s Okanagan hospitality, and training is substantial in achieving customer service objectives.

By this time, they’ve already cooked the deal!   I’m talking about the sales team who are always busy pulling in contracts.  UBCO Sales staff will manage clients from the initial sales call stage to the conclusion of the event overseeing every detail.  They’ve conceptualized the ideal guest experience for clients, and they are always anxious for the meal to begin.

The Maintenance guys carve the beef so to speak.  They spruce up the buildings with paint, minor repairs, and work with us to juggle the bigger summer projects.

There is no Gordon Ramsey Kitchen here!   The Housing and Conference Services Manager host this dinner from beginning to end.  These professionals work in unison determining the overall operational ingredients for the transition plan – they manage communications with all  schedules such as the cleaning, the polishing, the guest room set ups, the landscaping, and  the inventory just to mention a few of the operational details.  They put finishing touches on all the dinner parts and light the candle for both operations.

Transition can be simple – it doesn’t need to make you run for the Pepto!  But it is the biggest of all dinners and we think it should bring all stakeholders together.   It is the rich conversation, and respect for table manners, that makes the meal more enjoyable.

If you are don’t have a place at the dinner table for setting transitional expectations – that may we suggest you provoke your host!

Here’s a toast to a most successful conference season….

Suzanne Nazareno, Manager, Conferences & Accommodation & Central Booking Office,
University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus
Tel: 250-807-9805

CWSF – A Campus Wide Event!

Posted on: May 6th, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Erin Crane, University of Lethbridge

Less than one week until the University of Lethbridge welcomes approximately 1,500 participants coming for the Canada Wide Science Fair.  It’s been a lot of work but so much fun.   I live for campus wide events. There’s something about a community coming together, throwing open its doors, showing off its best features and ensuring everyone has a good time, that reminds me why I love my job so much.  In my opinion this is community engagement at its finest.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with two different groups on this event. The local host committee, made up of some of our finest staff members, and a group University stakeholders involved in the event. Both of these groups have taken on extra work to make this event happen and are committed to its success.

As you all know, whether or not you are the host of an event or just the venue, if an event doesn’t run smoothly, it reflects poorly on the University.  Providing help to the host committee with members of our own team and assisting with organization was necessary for this large scale event. Last week, we hosted a University stakeholder meeting with 34 people representing 20 departments that are all involved in the fair.  In my opinion, this is what we do best, working together to bring potential students onto campus from all over the country.

For those of you who have hosted a CWSF in the past please share your comments on this event! Thanks to CUCCOA, in 2011 at the National Convention in St. John,  I was able to meet with some of our colleagues who were past hosts of the fair.  They were kind enough to share their insights on the event and gave helpful advice and suggestions on what to expect.

What would my advice be for someone hosting this event?  Get involved early and encourage members of your campus community to get involved as well.  This will make for a successful Canada Wide Science Fair and will be good for your University.  Isn’t that why we are all here?

If any of you have questions about the event, I will be at National in Calgary so seek me out and ask away!

Erin Crane, Manager of Conference & Event Services
University of Lethbridge
Telephone: 403-329-2417

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